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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is reinvestigating Toyota’s report of steering-system defects to determine whether or not the company properly reported the problem.

The steering-system problem comes on the heels of Toyota’s major gas pedal incident. The motor company was fined $16.4 million for failing to adhere to policies for reporting defects, resulting in lost lives and endangering motorists on the roads.

The latest issue with Toyota deals with the steering-relay rod affecting nearly one million vehicles, including Toyota 4Runner SUVs, Toyota T100 pickups and Toyota pickups in model years 1989 through 1998. A report by the Washington Post explains that “the rod, which connects the steering wheel to the wheels, can break after wear and tear and cause drivers to lose control. The safety agency has linked the defect to complaints involving at least 15 crashes, three deaths and seven injuries.”

Despite the fact that the NHTSA requires automakers to report known defects within five days, Toyota did not report the steering defect until September of 2005, about a year after the defect was reported in Japan. The company argues that there was no evidence of the problem in the United States, but critics of Toyota and the NHTSA believe that action should have been taken much sooner.

In fact, the NHTSA was aware of 41 complaints about the steering-relay rod defect prior to the recall in Japan. Joan Claybrook, a former NHSTA chief and consumer advocate, stated, “’NHTSA was asleep at the wheel’”. To make matters worse, it appears that only a portion of consumers are aware of the defect, because only about 314,000 of 978,000 vehicles have been repaired by Toyota. If you have one of these vehicles, impose upon your local Toyota dealer to fix it. This is a potential safety defect.

Toyota’s apparent inability to properly follow federal policies reveals why auto-safety reforms are being considered in our nation’s capital. Consumer advocates desire criminal penalties be included for violations in order to properly protect our nation’s drivers and passengers.

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